ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Friday, November 28, 2014

Have we lost all perspective?

What ever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?  why are we so quick to assume fault and guilt?  Why do we shout, rage, break windows and vandalize stores because we disagree with the outcome of a situation?

I'm not just talking about Ferguson - although it is the latest example of a society gone nuts.  Everything about this case just feels wrong.

  • Did shooting until he died make sense - was it 16 shots?  
  • Why did the Prosecution choose a secret grand jury instead of a Preliminary Hearing?  In a Preliminary Hearing the press could have been there, there would have been opportunity for attorneys representing all sides make their case - and even if the outcome would have been the same, the vast majority of the public would have understood.  Instead, secrecy - leading everyone to think only some evidence was presented.
  • Why did the Prosecuting Attorney wait until nightfall to tell the results to the public?  Wouldn't early morning have assured a less volatile  reaction?
That's just Ferguson

What about the lack of common courtesy going in and out of elevators, doorways etc?  People don't hold doors open for each other, people don't wait so that someone can leave before barging in, people just don't seem to give a damn about each other.

How can people throw dogs out of the window - or beat them - dogs are gentle loving creatures that just want to give and receive affection.

Oh - and what about people who watch the entertainment on telethons and don't bother to pick up the phone and donate even a tiny amount?

What about simple misunderstandings - everything becomes a tempest in a teapot.... I wonder why?

We've become so highly sensitized to words and chastise each other at the drop of a hat.

We don't dress up for opera, symphony, theater - or even church - slop is our everyday uniform.

WHY?   Have we collectively lost self-esteem?

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Not In My Back Yard!

I live and work in the City of Santa Clara - in Silicon Valley, California.  We are a city dedicated to safety, quality of life, and growth.  Our city fathers/mothers have been very wise and our residential tax base has been kept low due to great business planning in the past.

There is an area of our city devoted to light industry and entertainment - the taxes received from these ventures makes life easier for the rest of us.  For example, we have outstanding police and fire departments and our own utility company (our electricity almost never goes down.)

There is a movement to urbanize the area - all the cities in the area - and to create two or three - and sometimes even four story housing about retail and business in what is being called "urban villages."

I love the idea.  As a displaced New Yorker I don't see these places as "stack and pack" as their opponents call them.  I see them as an opportunity to create community, to enable people to afford to live in the area, and to enable and encourage walking.

I miss walking.  New York City is a walking city - and because of it people bump into each other regularly and there is a sense of safety (yes, safety in NYC) and community.  You never know who you are going to bump into - and friends often take walks together as a way of visiting.

Here though - anytime there is new development proposed the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) people put up a hew and cry.  Of course they fail to realize that before the homes they are currently living in were built - there were the others crying NIMBY -

In my opinion, this represents short-sightedness and incredible lack of regard for others.  We need to develop homes for people who work in our valley.  we are landlocked because of the forced open space (which, by the way means people owning land have not been allowed to develop it) and the only way we can house people is to build up.

NIMBY always has an argument about noise, traffic, vista, and other excuses.

NIMBY also fights against growth of any kind.  For example, there is a group called "Play Fair" that fought the new Levi's (49ers) Stadium - which is going to be a huge boon to the city both financially and in lifting community spirit and pride.  They are now fighting any opportunities to replace some of our fifties style strip centers with new and modern combined usage retail, housing, parks, walking spaces, etc.

NIMBY - go move somewhere else and let the rest of us have the advantages that the planners and others in the City of Santa Clara so wisely wish to provide for us.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Abrogating Responsibility to create the simplest, most effective process.

Abrogating Responsibility to create the simplest, most effective process.

I’ve written about this before, but my experience last week at an event leaves me having to write about it again.

An intern, a young man in his twenties was assigned to add some labels to a few hundred programs (there had been some last minute donors after the original programs had been printed) and to fold the programs for distribution to people as they came to this event.  The expectation was that it would take about a half hour to complete the task.

As the time for guests to arrive was nearing, the event coordinator for the event noticed that the programs were not yet ready and since I had arrived early, she asked if I would help finish the project..

I joined him and observed him slowly and carefully – too slowly and too carefully – folding the programs one by one.  As I watched for a minute or two, I noticed the labels sitting on the table.  There were two sets (two different people needed to be honored on the program – in two different locations on the pages.)  They didn’t look touched.

He explained where they needed to go, leaving me to ask, “So, are the ones that are folded complete?”  “No”, he replied “they still need to be inserted.”  “So, why are you folding the programs only to have to unfold them again to insert the labels?”  I asked.

“Oh” he replied.   I quickly recruited two other young men to help.  One to unfold, myself and another man to insert labels, and the original intern to refold – this time much more quickly since I showed him how to do it.

OK, you could say the intern was lazy and that might have been true, but more to the point, no one showed him how to do it properly – leaving him to figure out his own system.  No one even checked to see if they could offer suggestions for process improvement.  As usual, the assumption was that he would figure it out himself.

This happens much of the time in the business/government world.  Managers think they are empowering when they assign a task without teaching a proper process, or at least finding out if the person assigned the task knew how to complete it in the most efficient and effective manner.
Time is wasted.  Money is lost.  People become frustrated.

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Resolving Disagreements - and staying neutral

Resolving Workplace Conflict - Small disagreements

Since this seems to be my topic for the month – why not talk about what I teach. 
Most conflict is minor – a misunderstanding, a tiff, a disagreement, something easily resolved through conversation.  Yet, we seem to be so about “zero tolerance” that no matter how small we react as though it were major.

What I teach is how to listen neutrally, try to learn the different sides of the story – and that’s very hard to do since the tendency in all of us is to believe the first person’s story – so that means we tend to believe the person making the accusation without taking into account that what we are hearing is their perception, often distorted, frequently exaggerated to convince us, but only one side of the story.
Unless the allegation is egregious (a felony – rape, murder, drug usage on site, etc.) most of the time the proper way to resolve it is to bring the parties together and help them work it out.  Technically, this is called mediation.

Sometimes there is too much anger or pain and you make the decision to first separate them and act as a go-between trying to help each side calm down and gain some perspective – this is called conciliation. 

At some point you feel comfortable asking them to meet face to face.  At that point, you move from conciliator to mediator and help them resolve it.  I teach how to do this!

If you are successful mediating they can go back to work and inform their allies (teams) that all is well.  You have now avoided tension among groups of people, as well as the protagonists themselves.
See the value?

This is so much better than playing judge and jury and “arbitrating” the dispute.  No one is happy when you make the decision for them.  You have now added to the polarization of the people that are allies with each of the parties.

All managers and all HR professionals ought to be taught how to do a neutral investigation, and mediation and arbitration.  This can be accomplished in a one day training with lots of practice.


As I said, it is so easy to believe the first person coming in the door.  Here are a few other biases that we all have and need to fight against.  This is from an article “58 Cognitive biases that screw up everything we do” by Drake Baer and Gus Lubin, in Business Insider.

Affect heuristic:           The way you feel filters the way you interpret the world – for example, if you are hungry your focus will be on food and other things coming your way might be ignored.
Anchoring bias:           Going against the norm, the example is that you are better off in a negotiation if you make the first offer.
Confirmation bias:       We tend to listen only to the information that confirms our preconceptions.  (This is my point about how hard it is to be neutral.)
Observer-expectancy effect:   Looking for a result, you only see those things that confirm that result and never notice, or deny those that don’t.
Bias blind spots:          Failure to recognize your cognitive biases is a bias in itself.
Galatea Effect:            Where people succeed or underperform depending on their self-perception – in other words where they think they should.
Inter-group bias:          To view people in our group differently from how we see someone in another group.
Negativity bias:            The tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones.  People with this bias feel that “bad is stronger than good” – this is also where it becomes easier to believe the bad about people than it is to believe the good.
Ostrich effect:              Sticking your head in the sand rather than paying attention to dangerous or negative information.
Planning fallacy:          the tendency to underestimate how much time it will take to complete the task

Selective perception:   allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world.

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The Tyranny of Pleasantness

The Tyranny of Pleasantness

One of the chapters in my Conflict in the Workplace: Causes and Cures is The Tyranny of Pleasantness.  The general theme of the chapter (which comes from a much longer article I wrote with Bob Finnochio) is that there is danger in “going along to get along.” 

We are so busy not hurting anyone’s feelings, being politically correct at all times, and never disagreeing with someone else’s decision that we fail to communicate what we really know and believe.  To tell someone they are wrong is a guarantee to get chastised by someone in supervision.
I was thinking about this because something reminded me of the student trip I accompanied to Europe a few years ago.  Although we visited some wonderful places, the way we were treated by the tour company *(EF Tours), the accommodations offered and a host of other things were, to be polite – sub-par.  If one of us complained to the teacher who had invited us to join her on the tour, she took it personally.  It was as though we were insulting her – but she was as fooled by the promotional hype as were the rest of us.

We’ve gotten so thin-skinned that if, for example, you tell someone they have a stain on their shirt, they react as though you were saying the shirt was hideous, therefore their taste is hideous and you think they are evil and awful.

Why have we reached a point where the slightest disagreement leads us to hateful reactions and loss of goodwill?   When did we stop being real and decide the socially appropriate way to be is to always smile and never say an unkind word about anything at any time?

My belief:  Be honest – if you have something to say, say it – without insulting the person – mention the item, or the behavior or the specific about which you are disappointed – without generalizing or attacking the individual his/her self.

If we remain euphemistic we run the serious danger of being misunderstood.  Let me remind you of one horror story that makes this point.

Many years ago there was a man who went crazy and shot out a bunch of people at ESL.  He believed that by acting as “Rambo” he would be able to get a real date with the woman he had been “courting.” (That’s in quotes on purpose – because he didn’t know how to court properly.)  She,  never wanting to hurt his feelings was too polite in telling him she wasn’t interested in him – and he, wrongly believed he had a chance with her.   

Now, I hasten to add before anyone attacks me – I am not blaming the victim.  She and the others at ESL were victims of a mind gone crazy.  

However, this and other similar tragedies might have been averted had a clear and convincing statement that she was not at all interested in dating him been communicated early in their work relationship.

We’ve gotten so bad at the way we handle disagreement that people with a different point of view as ours are considered by some as evil, dangerous, stupid and other pejorative terms – instead of a mere recognition that they hold a different point of view.  If we stopped being so thin-skinned about it, we might learn that their point of view has validity and we might learn something from them – and also, might teach them that our point of view has validity.

BUT, if we exaggerate every disagreement, because we have to be kind and euphemistic, we will never get to learn from each other.

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